State senator traces success to years spent on Forty Acres

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Longhorns in the Lege

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about UT alumni who are now in the Texas Legislature Standing in the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority house, a member of the Texas Spooks comes up and taps her and another sister on the shoulder. It’s all she needs to know. She’s just been chosen as a new member after months of waiting. “No one knew about getting in until they came to the sorority house and walked around the room and announced two of us in the sorority that were picked,” said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. “I was very pleased to be a part of the organization. It was a very worthwhile service organization and it was an honor to be accepted.” About 45 years ago, Shapiro was drawn to Alpha Epsilon Phi, Orange Jackets and Texas Spooks for their emphasis on community service. Spooks has been a women’s student organization at UT since 1941, but members voted to rename the organization to Texas Spirits in 1993. Shapiro was a member from 1966 to 1968. Texas Spirits President Katie Koehler said Spooks began as a secret organization where members would paint windows on the Drag in the middle of the night on Sundays to raise school spirit. Members left the campus wondering how the artwork appeared when students saw it Monday morning, she said. “Our whole purpose is to serve the UT and Austin community whenever and wherever possible,” said Koehler, an accounting junior. “We are very proud to have the senator as [one of] our alumni.” In 1993, Shapiro was elected to represent Senate District 8 of Plano. On her road to the statehouse, Shapiro said she set classes as her top priority when she was a student in the College of Education. “If I didn’t do well in class, I wouldn’t be able to stay in those organizations, so classes were very important to me,” she said. Former classmate Judy Brooks took a speech course with Shapiro. Brooks said the senator’s speaking abilities stood out. The two were also in Spooks during the same years. “She was always a very dynamic person,” said Brooks, who works as an office manager for Sen. Mike Jackson, R-Pasadena. “You could tell she could do anything she wanted to do. You knew she was going to do great things.” Shapiro moved to Plano in 1973, and community leaders asked her to run for the city council in 1979. “That’s how my political career started, locally,” Shapiro said. “I started building off of my volunteer work.” Shapiro eventually became mayor of Plano in 1990, facing the task of managing a city which had grown by 182,000 in nearly two decades. She said that task was nothing compared to what she faced when she was elected to the Senate in 1992, after taking the advice of her friend U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “I think this is the place you ought to look at, I think you would enjoy the state Senate,” Shapiro said Hutchison told her. From 1992 to 1993 when she first entered the Capitol as a senator, Shapiro said she realized how different local and state offices were. “It was exhilarating and exciting, but I learned very quickly when we started session how very little I knew,” she said. “I used to like to say that it was like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hydrant.” Shapiro said the 82nd Legislature is much more difficult than previous sessions because of the estimated budget shortfall of $15 billion to $27 billion and the effect of the economic recession on Texas. “I think what we need to do is get the state to cut back as we’ve been doing in public education and try to refrain from mandates, give higher education and public education more flexibility to spend the money they have in the best way they can,” she said. Shapiro said that she is trying to maintain the “role model” status of Texas public and higher education, including UT. “I’m very proud of the University in their scholarship and education,” she said. “I’m very proud to be [an alumna] at the University of Texas.”